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قراءة كتاب In Search of El Dorado

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‏اللغة: English
In Search of El Dorado

In Search of El Dorado

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
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Harry Collingwood

"In Search of El Dorado"

Chapter One.


The Everest, newly launched, the biggest and fastest boat in the Trans-Atlantic services, was on her maiden voyage to New York. The fortunes of that voyage concern our story simply from the fact that it brought our two adventurers together and helped to show the manly stuff of which they were made. Thereafter the sea was not for them, but the far-off swamps and forests of the mighty Amazon Valley, where most amazing adventures befel them. On the Everest Dick Cavendish was fifth officer.

The run from Liverpool to Queenstown was made under easy steam in order that the ship might arrive off the Irish port at a reasonable hour in the morning; but no sooner were the Irish passengers and the supplementary mails shipped than the word went quietly round among the officers that the “Old Man” was bent upon breaking the best previous record for the run across the herring pond and setting up a new one unassailable by any other craft than the Everest herself. And certainly when, as the liner passed Daunt Rock lightship shortly after nine o’clock on the Sunday morning following her departure from Liverpool, and the moment was carefully noted by chronometer, the omens were all most favourable for the weather was fine, though cold, with a light northerly wind and smooth water, and with her turbines running at top speed the chief engineer reported that the hands in the stokeholds were keeping a full head of steam without difficulty. At noon the patent log showed that the Everest was within a fraction of eighty miles from the lightship; and Captain Prowse already began to picture himself as holding the blue ribbon of the Atlantic.

And so things continued without a hitch or break of any description until half the journey across the Atlantic had been accomplished; the weather remained fine, with light winds, no sea, and very little swell to speak of, while the ship ran as smoothly and steadily as though she were travelling on land-locked waters instead of in mid-Atlantic.

Meanwhile she kept in almost hourly touch with other ships going east or west, reporting her position and progress and asking from time to time for the latest news; but it was not until Tuesday afternoon, about three o’clock, local time, that she got any intelligence of the slightest moment, this being a message from the homeward bound liner Bolivia, to the following effect—

“Warning! S.S. Bolivia, New York—Liverpool, Latitude 45 degrees, 7 minutes North, Longitude 37 degrees, 57 minutes West. Just cleared large area consisting of detached masses of field ice with several bergs, through which we have been working for the last three hours. Very dangerous. Advise ships approaching it to observe utmost caution, particularly at night time.”

This message was duly handed to Captain Prowse in his own cabin by the wireless operator, who waited while the skipper read it, to see whether the latter desired to address any inquiry to the Bolivia. But after cogitating over it for two or three minutes, the skipper crumpled up the paper and thrust it into his pocket, saying—

“All right, ‘Sparks’, that’ll do. And—look here, youngster—just keep this message strictly to yourself, d’ye see? Don’t say a word to anybody about it. I’ll see that all necessary precautions are taken; but I don’t want the news of there being ice ahead to be talked about; it’ll only make the passengers unnecessarily nervous and uneasy; and I don’t want that. Besides, it will be easy enough to alter the course a few degrees south if it should be found desirable. You understand me?”

“Perfectly, sir,” answered ‘Sparks,’ lingering for a moment at the cabin door. “Anything else, sir?”

“No,” answered the skipper, “nothing more at present, thank you. But keep your ears open for any further messages.”

The operator saluted and vanished; whereupon the skipper produced the chart of the North Atlantic, by the aid of which he was navigating the ship, spread it open upon the table, and studied it intently. A pencil mark consisting of a number of straight lines—the junction of each of which with the next was indicated by a dot surrounded by a small circle, against which was a note indicating the date, hour and moment of the ship’s arrival at each particular spot—showed the track of the ship across the ocean from her point of departure abreast of Daunt Rock, and a thinner, lighter pencil line extending on to New York marked the still untravelled portion of the route. Taking a pencil, parallel ruler and pair of dividers in his hand, Captain Prowse proceeded carefully to jot down the position of the Bolivia, as indicated by her message; having done which he gave vent to a sigh of relief; for he saw that the course which he was pursuing would take the Everest some sixty miles to the north of that point.

“Thank God! that’s all right,” he murmured. “There’s nothing to fear. That patch of drift ice is not in the least likely to extend as far north as our track. Besides, with the precautions that we are observing—taking the sea temperature every half-hour, and so on—and the maintenance of a good look-out, we are perfectly safe. I suppose I ought to tell Brown” (the chief officer) “about this message; but I won’t—no; I’ll keep it to myself, for the chap’s as nervous as a cat, and would want to slow down as soon as the dusk comes. And I don’t want that; I mean to make this a record passage, and don’t intend to be frightened into losing several precious hours merely because a ship sixty miles to the south’ard of my track reports a little floating ice. No; I’ll just issue instructions that everybody is to be on the alert and keep a specially sharp look-out, and let it go at that.”

Having come to which conclusion, Captain Prowse left his cabin and joined the officer of the watch on the bridge.

“By Jove! What glorious weather we are having,” he remarked genially, as the officer came to his side. “I cannot remember such a spell of it as we have had ever since leaving Queenstown. What’s she doing, Mr Dacre?”

“Twenty-six point six, sir, at the last reading of the log, about half an hour ago,” answered the second officer; “and she hasn’t slackened down any. At this rate we ought to be berthed in New York by noon the day after to-morrow, with a record passage to our credit.”

“Ay,” agreed the skipper, “that’s what I am hoping for in a quiet way. It will be a feather in our caps if we can pull the thing off—and please the owners, too. Have you seen any sign of ice yet?”

“Not yet, sir,” answered Dacre, “though I suppose we may expect to see some at almost any moment, now. But the temperature of the water remains quite steady. It is only half a degree colder than it was this time yesterday, and that is no more than one would reasonably expect about here.”

“Quite so,” assented the skipper. “Well, let the temperature continue to be taken every half-hour regularly, and keep the look-outs on the alert. We don’t want any accidents—or even any narrow escapes, on our first trip. The officers of the fleet have a reputation for carefulness, and we must live up to it. Let me know at once if any ice is sighted.”

“Certainly, sir,” replied the second officer, as the skipper turned away and retired to his cabin.

At half-past nine o’clock that night the ship’s band was playing in the grand lounge, and most of the first-class passengers who were not in the smoke-room were promenading or sitting about in that spacious and handsome apartment, listening to the music, or chatting together in couples or little groups. The smoke-room, too, was pretty well